First time advice on bird dog training from a struggling novice
Beginning on the path of bird dog training is no small feat. It is a world of obstacles, failures, and defeat. But the challenge is worth the reward—and the companionship is worth a lifetime. Novice to novice, these are some important things we should know before we start this exciting and timeless journey.
Start with a good bird dog and a breed that works for you
When it comes to getting a bird dog, we all have a check list on what we want to do or what we want the dog to do. Whether the focus is on waterfowl, pheasants, or grouse, we need to look at breeds that fit our vision. We must consider temperament, size, and anything else relevant to our home lifestyle. Gun dogs are a 24/7 commitment. When you’re ready, research the breeder you intend to get your dog from.
I recently spent some time training around another Wiredhaired Pointing Griffon. She would growl every time a person came near, which shocked me for a dog with a reputation for being soft. The dog feared just about everything: birds, guns, you name it. I had to ask the obvious question, “What happened?” The answer wasn’t what I expected. The behavior started with the breeder. Their line received a poor reputation for this overly fearful behavior, resulting in an occasionally aggressive showing. Add in some inexperienced bird dog training and this is what you get.
A good bird dog is more about us than them
If we went about choosing a bird dog the right way, the success or failure of that dog falls on our shoulders. You don’t need to take this too seriously, since this is an exciting learning experience. Often the issues that arise with bird dog training falls on the handler, not the dog. Maybe we apply to much training pressure? We teach them bad habits, slack on their training, act out because we did not give them the tools and opportunities they needed.
The question is not whether the dog is ready to be a bird dog. It is coming to terms with the reality that we need more training than the bird dog.
You get back what you put in
This probably isn’t the first time any of us have heard that. Yet if anything remains true about building a bird dog, it’s that we get as much as we put in. A working dog requires time and dedication to mold it into a top-notch bird dog. It’s worth considering when we look at the amount of time we have in our lives to spend. But jobs, family, hobbies—whatever it may be—there needs to be time allotted for our hunting companion. Some of those can add up to the good reasons to not have a bird dog.
Now, we’re not all looking for a top-notch field trial dog. In fact just the idea of understanding that not all dogs are good in all circumstances is lost on many. Quail dogs may not make good grouse dogs, cover dogs may not make good prairie hunting dogs. At minimum us novices are just looking for a half decent bird dog. Putting our expectations in line with what we actually put into our dogs and ultimately what application the dog is for is critical.
Seek out experienced guidance in bird dog training
There is nothing wrong with having the guidance of a professional dog trainer. Whether we hire a trainer or join an organization like NAVHDA (North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association), the input of experienced trainers can sometimes make or break us. Like us, they have failed and experienced the good and the bad along the road to a good hunting dog. Sure you can find online articles and YouTube videos but being mentored by someone will have a huge impact on your success.
There is more than one right way to train a bird dog
We should all take it as a major red flag when someone forcefully voices a single opinion (as the only fact) on an open-ended subject like bird dog training. It is an unfortunate by-product of many activities, but dog training just happens to exaggerate it. It is imperative that both novice and expert trainers recognize the importance of neutrality and non-judgmental environments. Fostering the future of bird dog culture relies, now more than ever, on us recognizing that we are all at different levels, seek different goals, and want to just plain feel welcomed.
We shouldn’t be unwilling to hear alternative methods or reasons, but we all have a responsibility to accept someone’s personal choices on the path of bird dog training. In the end we have to rely a lot on our own abilities to weigh through the BS, ask questions, and keep an open mind.
I leave you with a candid look into my first year with a bird hoping it will bring some inspiration and hope when all seems impossible: First Season – A Project Upland Original Film
A.J. DeRosa is an American filmmaker and the Founder and Creative Director of Northwoods Collective. While he is most widely known for the award-winning Project Upland series, he made his first mark in the hunting industry as the critically-acclaimed author of the cult classic The Urban Deer Complex and, more recently, The Urban Deer Complex 2.0. A.J. expanded his work toward the larger mission of recruiting and welcoming millennial hunters by conducting and applying cutting-edge market research across the Northwoods Collective brands. Now a passionate bird hunter, you can find A.J. following Grim, a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, through the uplands with his wife, Sabrina, and oldest son, Marty McFly.